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Ex-skinhead seen as stereotype victim by his black lawyer

Black lawyer says his ex-skinhead client is being prosecuted for resisting arrest without regard for his acknowledged schizophrenic and bipolar disorders.

August 01, 2011|By Ann M. Simmons, Los Angeles Times
  • Civil rights attorney Milton Grimes' latest case is to defend a mentally ill former skinhead against felony resisting arrest charges.
Civil rights attorney Milton Grimes' latest case is to defend a mentally… (Genaro Molina, Los Angeles…)

When the family of Chad Brian Scott, a heavily tattooed former white supremacist, contacted Milton Grimes seeking legal representation, the veteran black attorney had one initial question: "Do you happen to know my race?"

They did. And it didn't matter. What they were looking for was a good lawyer, recalled Scott's cousin Leah Jensen.

Scott, a former skinhead who suffers from schizophrenic and bipolar disorders, was forcibly restrained by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies after he tried to resist arrest, authorities said. A multiple offender, Scott faces up to 12 years in prison if convicted, according to the district attorney's office.

Grimes found Scott at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown Los Angeles. The two instantly felt at ease, Grimes said. After they chatted for 45 minutes, he decided to take Scott's case.

"This young man was not trying to break the law, he just needed medical attention," Grimes concluded.

But there was more. Grimes, a 65-year-old South Carolina native, studied law because he "wanted to represent black people during the civil rights movement." He later represented Rodney King in federal court, and two black O.J. Simpson jurors who had been dismissed. But Grimes said he saw parallels between the mistreatment of African Americans and the way authorities were handling Scott's case.

"This young man reminds me of so many young minority men whose freedoms are arbitrarily taken away because of the color of their skin," Grimes said.

In this case however, it was not Scott's color but his tattoos and white supremacist affiliations that had stereotyped him, the attorney said. Grimes said that for him, the principle of fairly applying the law had always outweighed his clients' color, gender, sexual preference or beliefs.

"It's not difficult for me to represent a person who is a former, or current, skinhead," said the attorney, who has practiced law for almost four decades. "I will fight for him as I will fight for a black man."

Grimes views Scott's case as an example of prosecutors putting the "status of an individual"— appearance and criminal history — over whether a crime was actually committed.

Scott had been out on parole for just three weeks, having served four years for evading a law enforcement officer. According to Grimes, shortly after being released Scott told his parole officer that he had run out of his psychiatric medication and was beginning "to feel weird."

He had an appointment to see a doctor April 7. But on April 6, managers at the Lancaster motel where Scott was housed said he appeared to be sick. They called paramedics. When Scott refused to cooperate with them, sheriff's deputies were summoned.

According to the incident report filed by deputies from the Lancaster sheriff's station, Scott was "uncooperative and appeared to be under the influence of an unknown drug." He was talking incoherently, flailing his arms and lashing out at deputies as they tried to cuff him. Deputies struck Scott with a baton and Tasered him, according to the report.

Scott stopped breathing and didn't regain consciousness until he was at Antelope Valley Hospital, the police report said. Grimes said his client actually died and had to be revived.

Scott was charged with felony resisting arrest. Bail, originally set at $1 million, was reduced to $250,000.

Scott's parole officer and the investigating sheriff's detective in the case have both indicated they would not oppose dropping all charges against Scott, according to a July 7 internal memo by Deputy Dist. Atty. Steve Ipsen in which he said he conducted interviews with both men.

Ipsen, a deputy D.A. for about 25 years, got the case when it was first sent for trial. After interviewing the parole officer and the detective, Ipsen decided there was no case and asked that it be dismissed.

"Given the defendant's documented mental illness, his repeated requests for assistance in getting medication, and the objective behavior of the defendant consistent with his paranoia, there is a reasonable doubt as to any actual criminality," Ipsen wrote in the memo sent to Steve Frankland, head deputy district attorney in the D.A.'s Antelope Valley Branch Office.

But Ipsen said he was taken off the case, and the D.A.'s office has decided to proceed with it.

"Given the facts of the case and the defendant's criminal history, he is clearly a danger," Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert Sherwood wrote in a motion opposing the reduction of Scott's bail.

"The defendant … is accused of attacking sheriff's deputies who were trying to restrain him," said D.A. spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons.

Scott was never charged for a drug offense. Ipsen's investigation found that he hadn't struck any deputies during the arrest.

But he has a troubled past. His previous offenses include attempted murder, a crime he committed as a juvenile, and making a criminal threat.

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